AUSTIN – Seventeen rescue swimmers with the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) have successfully completed the Helicopter Rescue Swimmer — Basic Level 1 course sponsored by Texas Task Force 1 (TX-TF1). The training event was held at the University of Texas Swim Center in Austin, with the final exercises conducted in open water at Decker Lake.
The course, held May 27-30, prepared the swimmers to perform water rescues in a variety of challenging conditions, said Brett Dixon, TX-TF1 Program Manager for Helicopter Search and Rescue. “Flooding is the most frequent natural disaster in Texas,” he said. “The state is particularly prone to heavy rains, storm surge and flooding during hurricane season. With DPS Aviation strengthening their helicopter rescue program and TPWD coming online with a new helicopter with rescue capability later this year, we felt it was important to establish a standardized level of training for helicopter rescue swimmers for our response partners within the state.”
The training covered specialized types of equipment needed by the rescue swimmer, such as masks, snorkels, fins, floatation devices and thermal protection, along with baskets, cinch collars and other rescue devices. Swimmers learned about victim management, including subsurface recovery, triage, emergency medical treatment, victim panic and victim tow/swim rescue, Dixon added.
Attendees currently serve on the Texas DPS Dive Team or the TPWD Search & Rescue Team. Each participant had to pass the rigorous NFPA Watermanship Test, which included underwater entrapment and escape, a 500-yard swim, 15-minute tread, 800-yard snorkel swim, 100-yard tow and dive and recover. The participants were required to safely and effectively perform a variety of underwater rescue scenarios wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE) and with or without spare air such as SCUBA or SEA air bottles.
“As a training agency and as the ESF-9 lead for the State of Texas, this was a natural fit for TEEX,” Dixon said. “This delivery was very successful, and we look forward to offering this class on an annual basis.”
Instructors were Lynn Burttschell and Steph Maier, managers on the TX-TF1 Helicopter Search & Rescue team, and Travis Maher, TX-TF1 Rescue Manager.
Lieutenant Game Warden Jason Huebner with TPWD said the instructors were “extremely knowledgeable and articulate.” “Their experience and professionalism are apparent, which boosts the program credibility,” he added. “You delivered an exceptional class, and I’m looking forward to the follow-up classes Please pass along a sincere thanks to all the instructors; they delivered an excellent product!”